Contralateral cervical seventh (C7) nerve transfer aids motor and sensory recovery in total brachial plexus avulsion injuries (TBPI), but synchronous sensation often persists postoperatively. The mechanism underlying synchronous sensory phenomena remain largely unknown.
To investigate the role of central plasticity in sensory recovery after contralateral C7 nerve transfer.
Sixteen right TBPI patients who received contralateral C7 nerve transfer for more than 2 years were included. Sensory evaluations included Semmes-Weinstein monofilament assessment (SWM), synchronous sensation test, and sensory evoked action potential (SNAP) test. Smaller value in the SWM assessment and larger amplitude of SNAP indicates better tactile sensory. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was performed while stimulations delivered to each hand separately in block-design trials for central plasticity analysis.
The SWM value of the injured right hand was increased compared with the healthy left side (difference: 1.76, 95% confidence interval: 1.37-2.15, p < .001), and all 16 patients developed synchronous sensation. In functional magnetic resonance imaging analysis, sensory representative areas of the injured right hand were located in its ipsilateral S1, and 23.4% of this area overlapped with the representative area of the left hand. The ratio of overlap for each patient was significantly correlated with SWM value and SNAP amplitude of the right hand.
The tactile sensory functioning of the injured hand was dominated by its ipsilateral SI in long-term observation, and its representative area largely overlapped with the representative area of the intact hand, which possibly reflected a key mechanism of synchronous sensation in patients with TBPI after contralateral C7 transfer.